Author Archives: awachter

Stepping Off the Diet/Riot Roller Coaster

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you’ve been battling with ineffective diets and uncontrollable eating (I call this riding the diet/riot roller coaster) and are ready to find solid ground, consider these tips.

Natural Eating

For decades, there’s been an unnatural paradigm when it comes to appearances and food. Most of us have been told (or have decided) what size our bodies should be based on cultural programming. Then, we set out to eat in a certain way that will supposedly get us to this magical size. Or, we feel bad because we can’t. So, we give up and ignore our body’s needs. These patterns of restricting and feeling out of control with food not only leave us feeling obsessed with food and disconnected from our bodies, but unwell in our bodies.

Thanks to movements like Intuitive Eating and Health at Every size, we now have a different paradigm. Instead of trying to eat in an unnatural manner in an attempt to attain a body size that may not even be natural for you, you instead learn to eat in a way that is non-restrictive and respectful and practice accepting and perhaps even appreciating your body. I know this is no small task in a culture that’s literally brainwashed most of us to think that we need to eat and look a certain way and that dieting will get us there. Contrary to the promises we’ve been sold, dieting leads most people to a sense of deprivation, food and body obsession, and chaotic eating.

When someone struggles with chronic and uncontrollable eating, they generally vacillate between two internal voices when it comes to food. One voice is what I call the “inner dieter.” This internal part sees foods as good, bad, right, and wrong. It’s important to know that you can have an inner dieter voice even if you don’t actually diet, but you think you should.

The second internal voice is what pops up for many people in response to the internal dieter. I call this the “inner rioter.” The inner rioter convinces us to eat everything the inner dieter and diet culture tells us not to eat.

Many people think the dieter is the good voice and the rioter is bad. In truth, the dieter leads to the rioter. It’s part of the problem.

The third internal voice is one that usually needs to be developed if you’ve been riding the diet/riot roller coaster for a while. This voice is wise, loving, and respectful. It knows when, what, and how much to eat.

If you have a history of dieting, feeling out of control with food, or body shame, this wise inner voice might be hard to hear. But rest assured, you have it inside of you. You were born with it. And with intention and practice, you can learn to identify your hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues as clearly as you know when you’re tired, cold, warm, or need to go to the bathroom. These are your body’s natural signals. You can get back what the diet industry took from you and learn how to have a natural, enjoyable relationship with food.

Tip: If you’re unsure how to feed yourself in a non-restrictive, respectful manner, you can ask yourself the following questions when you’re approaching a food choice:

How would I feed someone I love who doesn’t diet or riot?

What feels like the most loving thing to do right now? 

Natural Movement

Another important aspect of departing the diet/riot roller coaster is having a healthy relationship with movement and rest. The fitness industry has given us so many rules about “working out” and burning calories that it can make it very challenging to know how we truly like to move and rest our bodies. But, just like feeding ourselves, we can restore our innate clarity that knows exactly how our bodies want to move and rest.

Tip: If your relationship to movement and rest feels problematic, you can try on these questions:

If you found out your body size could not change no matter how much you exercised, how do you think your body might like to move and rest?

If you felt comfortable in your body and allowed yourself to follow your natural rhythms for pleasurable movement and guilt-free rest, what do you think that might look like?

Natural Emotions 

Many of us have been taught that there are good and bad feelings. Happy is good. Sad, mad, and scared, not so good. You may have been told as a child to “quit crying” if you were sad or to go to your room if you were mad. You may have been handed a cookie whenever you had feelings that your caregivers didn’t know how to handle. These responses can give our little brains the message that expressing painful emotions is not okay and we should keep them down.

Since our emotions are natural and need to be welcomed in order to move through us, the only alternative to allowing our emotions to come up naturally is to stuff them down unnaturally. When we get the message that we should be happy all the time and keep our painful feelings down to a minimum, we must find ways to keep those feelings down. This is where food and body obsession or various substances, behaviors, and thoughts can arrive on the scene as attempts to quiet and quell our emotions.

It’s not easy to sit with, tolerate, or safely express our painful emotions, but then neither are the consequences of unnaturally stuffing them down. Those are our only choices. We either feel the feelings that naturally arise in our bodies, or we feel the feelings we have as a result of trying not to feel our feelings.

Tip: If welcoming emotions is a challenge for you, one of the best places to start is with self-compassion. If you become aware of sensations in your body that feel uncomfortable or unacceptable, try welcoming those sensations with acceptance and compassion.

You can also identify any unhelpful thoughts that might be contributing to painful emotions and see if they need to be questioned or upgraded.

Practice identifying your emotions with one word, like sad, mad, scared, lonely, etc. Then offer compassion to whatever emotions you are aware of. Compassion might sound like Of course I feel this way. Or It makes sense that I feel this.

Not only does compassion feel better and kinder, it helps us alleviate the need to stuff our natural emotions down in unnatural ways.

Natural Needs

Just like we all have various emotions that need regular tending, we also have a variety of needs. For many people, body obsession, food restricting, and chronic overeating are attempts to get some of our needs met. But, if these mindsets and behaviors truly met our needs, we would feel better from them and that is rarely the case, long-term.

When we get our needs met in healthy ways, we usually feel better afterwards; we feel satisfied. We don’t need obsessive thoughts or behaviors to try fill those empty spaces. Food can return to its original intended purpose: nutrition and pleasure.

So, what are our needs? Obviously, we have our basic physical needs, like food, water, shelter, and sleep. We also have our emotional and spiritual needs, like comfort, connection, equality, respect, love, play, and balance. These are needs that no amount of food and no particular body size will ever truly fill.

Of course, most of us don’t get every single need met every single moment, but when we are aware of our needs and meet them (or get them met) on a regular basis, we don’t need to turn to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors in an ineffective attempt to meet our needs.

Tip: If you’ve been battling with your body and food, rather than berating yourself for your behaviors, try looking for the unmet needs that the behaviors might be indicative of.

Complete the following sentence starter as authentically as you can:

I need…..

If you identify one or more unmet needs, see if there’s at least one that you can either meet yourself or get met in some way. If that’s not possible right now, you can offer yourself compassion and praise yourself for the courage it takes to dig deep.

Author and neuroscience educator, Sarah Peyton says, “We can literally see in functional MRIs, that brains calm when emotions, and the meaning behind them, are named accurately. When we can understand the ecosystems of our emotions and deep needs, then we can also understand that we make sense. That there’s nothing wrong with us. That we are feeling the way that we feel for very good reasons.”

If you’ve been stuck on the diet/riot roller coaster, you can learn how to feed yourself non-restrictively and respectfully. You can practice moving your body in ways that feel good to you, and resting in ways that truly fill you up. You can learn how to identify and welcome your emotions and needs and meet them with deep compassion. I wish this for you.

View on Psychology Today

How to Deal with Morning Anxiety

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you commonly wake up in the morning filled with anxiety, you are not alone. Many people wake up with fight-or-flight sensations and feel baffled as to how they can already feel anxious when their feet haven’t even touched the floor yet.

A variety of factors can play a part in morning anxiety: excess stress, low blood sugar, medication side effects, poor sleep, and hormonal changes, to name a few.

Let’s say you just woke up and are greeted by a flood of anxious sensations. What do you do?

Consider the following two scenarios of a parent responding to a child with morning anxiety. As you read these scenarios, imagine that the child is the anxiety you feel and the parent’s responses are you responding to your anxious feelings.

Which scenario seems most familiar?

Scenario one

Susan’s daughter, Chloe, struggles with anxiety. Chloe often wakes up with a busy mind that spins with all the worst-case scenarios of the day. This morning, Chloe climbs into bed with her mom and says she feels like there’s a rock in her chest and butterflies in her tummy.

Susan responds by telling Chloe these feelings are not okay and she agrees that a lot of scary things can happen. She tells Chloe to focus on the anxious feelings and watch as they get even bigger. Susan tells Chloe she might not ever feel any better. Then Chloe starts to panic. Susan tells her even more scary things that could happen and how something might really be wrong.

After a little while, Susan grabs her smartphone and mindlessly surfs the internet for a few hours. Finally, she tells Chloe she needs to just get it together. She tells Chloe to get in the shower and grabs her a bottle of juice on the way out the door.

Scenario two

Kelly’s son, Jake, struggles with anxiety. Jake often wakes up with a busy mind that spins with all the worst-case scenarios of the day. This morning, Jake climbs into bed with his mom and says he feels like there’s a rock in his chest and butterflies in his tummy.

Kelly responds by wrapping her arms around Jake. She tells him that it’s okay to feel afraid. She asks him to tell her all the things he’s afraid of. After hearing his list, she is able to offer him compassion and reassure him that the scary thoughts in his mind are made-up stories and that none of those things are actually happening right now.

Kelly points out several things that are real and true in the moment. She asks Jake to focus on the softness of the blanket as she snuggles him up even closer. She asks him to focus on the pillow and the mattress under his body. She softly suggests that he try to relax his body as he focuses on his breathing.

Then Kelly asks Jake to tell her several things that he can see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and feel with his hands and feet. She reminds him of many times in the past when he felt anxious about things that either never happened or that he got through and hardly even remembers.

Kelly opens up one of her favorite guided meditations on her phone and asks Jake to listen to it with her. She tells him it’s totally fine if he still feels scared in his tummy while he’s listening. He can just breathe and follow along with the teacher’s voice as best he can.

Then Kelly makes her son a mug of warm tea and, even though he tells her he has no appetite, she makes him a delicious, nutritious breakfast and asks him to eat as much of it as he can.

Kelly plays Jake’s favorite songs while he takes a warm shower and gets dressed for school. On the way to school, she reminds Jake that hard things pass and that he can and will get through this. She teaches him that we are all born with different types of personalities and that some of us have to work a bit harder to quiet our minds. She says there are good things about being the way he is, even if he can’t feel or know it right now. Kelly tells Jake she loves him and reminds him that he is very lovable.

Does either scene resemble how you usually speak to or treat yourself when you’re experiencing challenging emotions?

While it might be hard to imagine speaking to a child like the parent did in the first scene, that is sadly how many people speak to themselves when they’re anxious.

If you struggle with morning (or anytime) anxiety, imagine the anxious feelings are your child and your wise, compassionate mind and respectful actions are the parents. Offer yourself compassion and comfort. Anchor yourself in the present moment. Give your sensations permission to exist while questioning their accompanying stories. Treat yourself like a loving, conscious parent would treat their child. Reassure yourself that all sensations, emotions, and thoughts pass, and notice the effects of your own comfort.

View on Psychology Today

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Tips for Sleep Support

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you struggle with insomnia, you know only too well the effects it can have on your quality of life. Consider the following tips from a therapist who used to toss and turn the nights away and, with a few simple adjustments, developed a peaceful relationship with sleep. May these practices bring you the rest you seek and deserve.

Attitude Adjusting

Ironically, one of the biggest contributors to insomnia is worrying about insomnia. Most people who have difficulty falling or staying asleep have thoughts along these lines: Uh oh. What if I can’t fall asleep?I have to get back to sleep. How am I going to function tomorrow? Another hour has passed. I need to get to sleep!

Though completely understandable, thoughts and questions like these do nothing to quiet our minds and calm our nervous systems. They usually generate anxiety, which is the opposite of sleep-inducing. Imagine shifting to thoughts like It’s okay. I can practice mindfulness by tuning into what is actually, factually, here right now. This is an opportunity to rest. Rest is the sibling of sleep. 

It’s amazing what happens when we turn down the pressure to sleep and turn up the intention to rest.

Soothing the Mind 

Sometimes physical factors contribute to insomnia, but oftentimes it‘s worrisome thoughts that keep us awake. Many people spend hours swimming in a swirl of anxiety, which of course, does nothing to help them rest or fall asleep. What if you could tend to your worried mind as you might tend to a scared child? Imagine a child came into your room in the middle of the night and told you they couldn’t sleep. My guess is you would soothe and comfort them. We can do the same thing with our minds. If worried thoughts keep you up at night, try soothing and comforting your mind like you would an anxious child and notice the calming effects.

Screening and Scrolling 

The pull of screens can be fierce and lead many people to spend their pre-sleep time scrolling on their devices. Using screens right before sleep can throw off our systems and have the opposite effect of winding down, which is precisely what we need to be doing to prepare for rest and a good night’s sleep. Turning off screens and devices at least an hour before sleep can positively affect our ability to fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up feeling more rested.

Since it’s much easier to start a new behavior rather than stop doing a habitual one, if going screen-less before sleep is something you’d like to try, consider creating a list of calming practices that could take the place of screening and scrolling. Breathing practices can be very calming, like keeping your laser-focused attention on your breathing or counting your breaths. Many people count backward from 100 to zero and report that they rarely make it all the way to zero.

Repeating a soothing word or phrase can also help keep the mind focused and elicit relaxation. One of my favorites is, Mind-Quiet, where you mentally say Mind as you inhale and Quiet as you exhale. If your mind wanders, as minds will do, you gently shift back to your chosen phrase as soon as you become aware that your mind has wandered. I also like Deep-Peace or Deep-Rest. You can experiment with words or phrases and find ones that feel calming.

You can also download sleep meditations on your device to listen to a calming guided meditation without Wi-Fi. There are countless ones available. If you want to join me, I have several free sleep meditations. It’s actually the only time in my life when someone tells me that they fell asleep while I was talking, and I consider it a good thing!

Belly and Bladder Balance 

Another important aspect of sleep support is taking care of our physical needs. This means making sure that you’re not going to bed hungry or overly full. Also, make sure that you haven’t had caffeine late in the day, and trying not to drink too much water right before sleep so you don’t have to get up for too many bathroom breaks, but also be hydrated enough that you don’t wake up in the middle of the night, parched. Of course (and thankfully!), this doesn’t have to be perfect, but if we do our best to balance our hunger and thirst, we can better support our rest.


Many people find great benefits from white sound and earplugs. White sound machines are easy to find, as are white sound apps that can be listened to in airplane mode. Doing your best to ensure a quiet space can really assist in creating a cozy and peaceful environment.

Lights Out

Even with lights and devices off, many people still surround themselves with small lights that can adversely affect sleep. I have found black duct tape extremely handy to cover up all the little lights in the bedroom. Some people enjoy wearing a soft eye mask to block out any light. Additionally, the blue light from screens can convince our bodies that it’s daytime instead of nighttime, so you might consider changing the blue light on your devices to a different color and adjusting the brightness on your screens when the sun goes down to help you shift from daytime energy to nighttime relaxation.

Check In for a Check-Up

While many people attribute their sleep disturbances to mental, emotional, or environmental factors, it’s also important to rule out or address any potential medical conditions or medication side effects contributing to sleep problems. Hopefully, you have a health practitioner who can help address any physical factors that might adversely impact your sleep.

Sprinkling Subconscious Seeds 

Right before sleep or in a state of deep rest are wonderful times to plant seeds into our subconscious minds. Consider what thoughts to plant and grow in your pre-sleep garden. Thinking about things we love, appreciate, or feel grateful for can make for a wonderful bedtime ritual. We can also imagine ourselves being how we wish to be. For example, if you are someone who wants more confidence, you could come up with a scene or a feeling where you feel confident as you drift into deep rest or sleep. If you want more peace, you could envision yourself on a peaceful vacation. You can picture or think of any image or feeling that conjures a state you wish to have or have more of.

As Thomas Edison said, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”

View on Psychology Today

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How I Stopped Hating My Body

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I began hating my body when I was a teenager. I spent years lost in self-criticism and the unhealthy behaviors I turned to in an attempt to quiet those constant criticisms.

I know now that my unkind mind was really just trying to help. I thought that if I could attain the body size I was programmed to believe I should I be, I would live happily ever after.

What a faulty system that was.

The only way to attain and maintain a body that is not naturally meant for us is to live in an unnatural manner. There’s no happily-ever-afterness in that.

Year after year, I obsessed over my body, restricting my food intake, overeating, bingeing, even abusing drugs and alcohol. On the outside, I’m sure people thought I was the life of the party. On the inside, I suffered severely. My mind played and replayed a near-constant internal soundtrack that told me I was not good enough but that if I somehow changed my appearance, I would be.

After many years of riding what I refer to as the “diet/riot roller coaster,” I finally found help. Only this time it wasn’t counterfeit help, in the form of a new diet or exercise regime. It was deeper help for my emotions, thoughts, needs, communication skills, and endless food and fitness rules.

I learned that critiquing and criticizing our bodies is not natural. These are adopted patterns resulting from a massive hypnotic spell of body perfection. I learned how to challenge my unkind thoughts and put self-kindness and peace of mind at the top of my priority list. I learned how to speak to myself kindly and treat myself respectfully.

I had always thought that if I ate what I truly wanted, I’d never stop eating. But that was only the case when I never let myself eat what I truly wanted. I always thought that if I treated myself kindly, I would never get anything done. But that was before I tested out kindness as my home base. I thought that if someone had what I thought was a perfect body, they must have a perfect life, but that was only because I was lost in society’s cultural programming and didn’t know how to question its faultiness. And I always thought I needed to change my body in order to be lovable, but it turned out that I needed to change my thinking. I know now that changing my body will not make me feel loved; only loving myself will.

Occasionally, I come across a picture of myself as a teen. I remember how dreadfully uncomfortable I felt in my skin, in a bathing suit, and at parties. I can see now that I was a precious adolescent with a healthy, changing body. If I could only tell her, “You’re fine, sweetheart. Eat whatever you want. Your body will tell you when it’s had enough. Don’t believe everything you think or what others say. Move your body in ways that feel good and then rest, a lot. Speak your truth. Hang out with people who hear your truth and want to tell you theirs. Seek to know your heart’s desires. Go for balance. Go for self-love.”

I know I can’t save that young girl from the years of suffering, dieting, bingeing, comparing, and despairing. But I can prevent myself from looking back on pictures 20 years from now and having to say, “Oh honey, you’re a lovely woman. Welcome aging, wrinkles, spots, and sagging skin. Don’t lose an ounce of precious time criticizing your body. Thank it for all it does for you every single minute. Thank those limbs and systems. Thank those lungs. Thank that heart. Thank those miraculous senses that enable you to see, hear, feel, taste, and write. Don’t waste another minute hating your body. Feed it, move it, rest it, appreciate it. And help others do the same.”

If you are struggling with your body image, I hope you will try on some body appreciations and see how they feel. Seek support if you need to. Don’t miss out on years of your life berating your body like I did. If the cultural programming of perfectionism has led you to turn against your body, look for ways to say no to those programs and see your body through eyes of compassion, acceptance, love, and appreciation.

View on Psychology Today

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Trying Not to Try

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you are someone who has struggled with disordered eating and body image, there’s a good chance you have also struggled with perfectionism. If this is the case for you, you’re likely no stranger to the concept of trying.

Back in the days of my eating disorder, my trying looked something like this:

  • Trying to change my appearance
  • Trying new diets
  • Trying to recover from a binge
  • Trying not to binge
  • Trying to work out
  • Trying to work out more (Pull up a chair, this could take a while!)
  • Trying to improve my looks
  • Trying to get a boyfriend
  • Trying to look good
  • Trying to fit in
  • Trying to do well in school
  • Trying to be perfect

Next up were my early years in recovery: 

  • Trying to listen to my body
  • Trying to eat intuitively
  • Trying to get it right
  • Trying to be perfect
  • Trying to let go of being perfect
  • Trying to be balanced
  • Trying to be healthy
  • Trying to be a good person
  • Trying not to beat myself up
  • Trying to get a career
  • Trying to get “likes”
  • Trying to let go of caring about “likes”
  • Trying to do the right thing
  • Trying to know what the right thing was
  • Trying to look good
  • Trying not to care how I looked

In recent years, it’s more like this:

  • Trying to let go
  • Trying to be more present
  • Trying to surrender
  • Trying to live in acceptance
  • Trying to quiet my mind
  • Trying not to get injured
  • Trying to be kinder to myself
  • Trying to find my glasses
  • Trying to have a balanced life
  • Trying to be peaceful
  • Trying to welcome all emotions
  • Trying to age well
  • Trying to surrender to aging
  • Trying to practice gratitude
  • Trying not to lose my keys
  • Trying to practice mindfulness
  • Trying not to beat myself up
  • Trying not to try so hard (I told you this could take a while!)

Recently, while on a lovely walk in the redwood forest, (my personal place of worship), I started thinking about all this trying. How for as long as I can remember, I have been trying, and then more recently, trying not to try so hard. I’d set out to take a lovely, quiet walk and commune with nature, yet that day, my mind was as busy as ever. I decided to call order in the court.

Hey! Can we give it a rest? Can we just stop trying? Can we stop trying to stop trying? Can we admit that the only reason we ever try to get or get rid of anything is because we think we will feel better if we did? Can we step off the mental treadmill and simply be?

And then, perhaps being witnessed by the majestic trees, the swaying ferns, and the glistening creek, or perhaps because I made a conscious decision to drop trying (the new stop, drop, and roll), something inside me gave way. My little tryer said, “Uncle,” and I began to steer my mind to the breeze, my feet on the ground, my arms moving in time, my breathing, a bird song. Much like pointing a tantruming child back to something soothing in the present moment, I steered my busy mind back home, back to reality.

The promises of attainment, achievement and accomplishment will pop up again and again, I’m sure. Many of us have been raised on way too much Disney and happily-ever-afters. But I’m onto it now. I am onto my mind’s seductive nature. Our minds seduce us into thinking if we just got this fill-in-the-blank, we would be happy, but all we have to do is remember the last several hundred things we were convinced would bring us happy-ever-after-ness to see that it’s not the case. If it were, we would have just lived happily-ever-after.

So, if you struggle with a busy little tryer inside of you, see if you can reel it back in now and then. Notice the simplicity of the moment. Remind your mind that anything you acquire will have pros and cons and ups and downs so there really is nowhere to get. This is the best news of all.

In any given moment, we all have a feast of temptations to take us away from this moment. And then we have this moment. Reality. Right here. Right now. We get to choose… fantasies and fears or that which is actually, factually here. This breath. This surface. This sensation. This sound. I’m willing to give it a whirl if you are.

View on The Huffington Post

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Tips to Support Conscious and Balanced Screen Use

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

The average American spends 7 hours and 4 minutes a day looking at a screen. Digital burnout is a growing problem that’s taking a toll on people’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

If your screen use habits could use an upgrade, consider the following menu of tips. Perhaps one or more can provide you with a realistic and helpful opportunity.

  • Postpone picking up your phone first thing in the morning. You can use this time to envision how you’d like your day to go, practice mindfulness, or recite or do a gratitude list.
  • Turn off any unnecessary notifications and alerts.
  • Postpone checking a text immediately. You can even use the text chime as a reminder to take a deep breath or have a mindful moment.
  • Leave a room without your phone.
  • If you always take a device outside with you, consider going out without a screen, or taking it but turning it off for a little while. You can use the opportunity to practice being present with your body and your surroundings.
  • Set reminders, alarms, or an intention to check in with your body when you’re screening or scrolling. See if your posture needs adjusting or if your body is ready for food, water, movement, or fresh air. Notice if your brain is feeling foggy. Our bodies and our intuition will tell us what we need if we pay attention.
  • Look for opportunities to put your devices on airplane mode with wifi off. These windows of time can help you practice getting comfortable with unstimulated moments.
  • Avoid multitasking. Although doing more than one thing at a time can appear to be productive, it can actually do more harm than good. Multitasking can lead to excess stress, memory problems, and ironically, decreased productivity. Stay on the lookout for double or triple screening and know that your nervous system will benefit from you slowing down and doing one thing at a time.
  • Consider deleting any apps that you find depressing or depleting.
  • Move apps that you consider time killers to the second or third page on your devices so you don’t see them as frequently.
  • Set digital limits with yourself. Some devices have settings that allow you to choose when certain apps will automatically close. This can help if you tend to get caught up screening and scrolling and lose track of time.
  • Set a timer to be online for a certain amount of time and then take a screen break.
  • Set a timer to be offline a certain amount of time before you go back on. You can use these breaks to check in with yourself, sit in silence, connect with someone in-person, get some fresh air, or allow for creative ideas.
  • Browse in a craft or hobby store and see if anything looks like something you might want to try. It could be an old hobby you used to enjoy, or a new hobby, craft, or project.
  • Purchase a book or workbook on a topic of interest.
  • If you always eat with a screen, try a screen-less meal, or even part of a meal.
  • If you use screens at night, the blue light can disturb your sleep so consider changing the light on your devices to a different color and reducing the brightness.
  • If you use screens right up until you fall asleep, try turning them off earlier than you normally would. Consider reading a book, journaling, listening to soothing music, meditating, mindful breathing, reciting a calming word or phrase, writing or thinking about things you appreciate or feel grateful for, or imagining yourself accomplishing a goal or a dream. (Right before sleep is a wonderful time to plant seeds into our subconscious minds.)
  • Set reminders to ask yourself if you are time killing or spirit filling. Of course, we get to play or check out sometimes. It’s just helpful to check in about how often we are checking out so it doesn’t contribute to depressionanxiety, depletion, or sleep disturbances.
  • Create a list of healthy non-screen activities that might fill your spirits. Here are some ideas from clients who’ve created spirit filler lists to support themselves having more off-screen time: getting into nature, listening to music, reading a good book, taking a bath or a foot bath, walking, swimming, biking, dancing at home or taking a dance class, playing cards or a board game, meditating or practicing mindfulness, gentle stretching, qigong, playing or learning an instrument, crafting or starting a hobby, resting, visiting with friends and family, laughter yoga, writing or reciting a gratitude list.

Creating an easily accessible list of potentially fulfilling activities can really help since it tends to be easier to start a behavior rather than stop one. So if you’re wanting or needing a screen break, you can try doing something on your list.

If you do decide to cut back on screens, it’s important to know that some feelings might come up, feelings that will definitely need compassion and may need support. Screens might appear to be innocent little devices but they can have an incredibly strong pull on us, and our use of them can sometimes be attempting to distract us from deeper issues. What’s most important is to stay conscious about how and how often you are using screens so you don’t feel used or used up by them.

View on Psychology Today

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Conscious and Balanced Screen Use

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Screens and devices can be incredible. They give us access to an endless stream of information, enable us to work from home, attend virtual classes and groups, visit with long distance loved ones, play fun games, watch movies, even read articles about screens!

Screens can also be incredibly draining, leading many people to feel isolated, disconnected, anxioussleep-deprived, and depressed. So, how can we use screens and devices in a conscious and balanced manner that doesn’t zap us of our vital life force energy?

Here are five points to consider if your screen-use habits could benefit from an upgrade.

Conscious Awareness

Screens can absorb our attention like sponges. Most of us can easily become engrossed in computer games, social media feeds, endless videos, and TV shows while countless hours pass by. It’s extremely important to stay aware of how much time we are spending on screens and if we are consciously choosing the time and content or if we are simply getting caught up in the online whirlpool.

In addition to how often we’re using screens, it’s also really important to be conscious about when we are screening and scrolling. I often see people driving cars or riding bikes while looking down at their phones or taking care of children with their eyes fixed on a screen. I wonder if that behavior is a conscious choice that’s aligned with their values, or if they’ve just gotten sucked into the seductive pull of screens.

Of course, I have no idea what’s going on for strangers I see in passing. I need to stay aware of my own screen use and support my clients to be conscious about theirs. And, if you’d like, let’s take a look at your screen use as well.

Reflective Questions: Are you using screens in the manner and amount that is aligned with your values? Do you stay aware of your self-care and other aspects of your life when you’re screening and scrolling, or do you tend to get “lost” in screen activities and neglect your body and other important needs and commitments? Is your screen use similar to what you would advise a young person to have?

My hope is that you will ponder these questions with curiosity and compassion, not with self-criticism or defeat.

The Power of Choice 

Many people feel compelled to screen and scroll, like they have truly lost the power of choice. Many people spend several hours a day on their devices without even considering how the content is affecting them, or what else they might be doing with their time.

We can begin to regain our power by weaning ourselves off screens, even a little bit.

For some, this might mean turning their phone off for a few minutes a day. For others it might mean one screen-less meal. For some, it might mean a full day off screens. (Challenging, I know!)

Reflective Questions: Is it easy for you to turn off your screens and spend time in other ways? Separate from work obligations and other commitments, do you feel like you have a choice about picking up (or not picking up) your screens? Do you feel compelled to watch programs or look at sites that contribute to insecurity, depression, anxiety, or exhaustion?

If you are constantly picking up a device or remote control, consider choosing one behavior that would feel like a healthy step towards regaining your power of choice.

Conscious Etiquette

Depending on your age, you might not even remember a world without computers, tablets, and phones. The digital age came upon us so rapidly that many of us have not been able or taught to adjust to the rapid changes, particularly in the area of etiquette.

My husband and I made a few agreements when devices came into our lives. One is that if we are hanging out together, we decide together how the screen use will go. We might decide to each be on our individual screens while we’re next to each other. Or we might do something together on one screen, like play a game or watch a movie. Or we go screenless! If one of us is on a screen and the other one wants to say something, as long as we’re not in the middle of work or something essential, we put down our screens and make eye contact. It’s a new day when people have to agree on eye contact and undivided attention, but this is the world we live in. Of course, we can all make our own agreements with the people we spend time with, but it really helps to communicate and make respectful requests when needed.

Reflective Questions: If you are using a screen for non-essential purposes and someone in your life speaks to you, do you typically pause and make eye contact? When spending time with people, do you decide together how the screen use will go? If you are with someone and you need or want to do something on a screen, do you let the other person know when you’ll be present with them again? Do you think your relationships could benefit from a few respectful agreements in the area of screen etiquette?

Seek Balance

In many areas of life, when we become aware of doing a little too much or not enough of something, we have the opportunity to recalculate back to center. Of course, this is much easier said than done if we are compelled to do something, or if there are deeper issues we’re attempting to avoid, numb, or distract ourselves from.

Since the pull of screens can be extremely strong and tempting, it can help to stay compassionate and consistent about how balanced you feel in your life and if screen use may be contributing to you feeling imbalanced.

Reflective Questions: Do you feel well-balanced between your on-screen and off-screen time? How about your alone time vs. connecting with others? Do you have a healthy balance between work and play? Rest and movement?

If you suspect your screen use is contributing to a state of imbalance, consider some gentle recalculating towards center. Even small changes can make a positive difference.

Time Killer or Spirit Filler

Screens can definitely help us fill our spirits. We can listen to uplifting talks on screens, access calming meditations, attend virtual gatherings, listen to inspiring podcasts, read engaging books, just to name a few. And screens can be serious time killers and energy zappers.

Pay attention to how you feel, both during screen use, and afterwards. When we truly fill our spirits, we generally feel good during an activity as well as afterwards.

Some screen activities might fill our spirits every time, like meditation or watching a lighthearted movie, while others might feel good for a little while but can then feel depleting. For example, it might be enjoyable to play a computer game for a half an hour, but after two hours it might be time to eat something and get some fresh air. It might be enjoyable to watch a new comedy series, but five episodes later we might feel zapped of energy rather than uplifted and entertained.

Reflective Questions: How do you feel while you’re using screens? How do you tend to feel afterwards? Does your screen use feel depleting or fulfilling? Disconnecting or connecting? Depressing or uplifting?

Some final questions to ponder: What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? What do you typically do when you eat your meals? What do you do if you have a break in between scheduled events or a few free hours? What do you do when you transition from day to evening or wind down before bed? What do you do right before you fall asleep at night? How do spend your weekends or days off?

If screen use is involved in the majority of your responses, consider the percentage of time they feel like time killers or spirit fillers.

These questions are not about self-berating, rather they’re about increasing your awareness and seeing if you are finding enough opportunities to use screens in fulfilling ways, as well as getting sufficient off-screen time. Excessive screen use is a global problem but it’s up to each one of us to integrate changes in our lives that will make our screen use more balanced.

View on Psychology Today

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The Path of Anxiety Relief

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you struggle with anxiety, perhaps you will relate to the following scenario:

Imagine you are on a path. I will call it the path of anxiety. One of the most common experiences on this path is anxious physical sensations, a chemical cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline that can bring on a knotted stomach, a racing heart, trembling, fatigue, headache, brain fog, or nausea.

In addition to anxious sensations, many people experience worrisome thoughts on the path of anxiety. I call them the “What ifs.” What if this happens? What if that happens again? What if it doesn’t happen?

Usually, anxious thoughts lead to anxious sensations, but sometimes people have anxious sensations, and they’re not aware of any prior worries. Of course, there may have been unconscious thoughts. It’s also important to rule out any medical conditions or medications that could be causing fight or flight sensations. Still, some people with a clean bill of health find themselves feeling regular rushes of anxious sensations with no anxious thoughts. Then, what often occurs is that they have anxious thoughts about the anxious sensations. Why is this happening? What if this never ends? What if I feel this way at work?

So, we can have anxious thoughts that trigger anxious sensations, or we can have anxious thoughts about anxious sensations.

Next on the path of anxiety, many people experience self-blame. What’s wrong with me? I can’t believe I’m still so anxious with how much therapy I’ve done. I’m going to ruin my health or my relationships if I don’t get it together.

Not only is self-blame unhelpful, it’s also unfortunate, because if you struggle with anxiety, it’s not your fault. Anxious sensations and thoughts are automatic, unconscious reactions that occur for a variety of reasons, none of which are your fault. Nobody decides to worry or wake up with a pit in their stomach. We need compassion when we’re anxious, not blame.

Finally, on the path of anxiety, many people disapprove of the anxiety itself. I hate this feeling. I can’t stand feeling this way. I’m so sick of being anxious. Believe me, I get it. Anxiety can feel extremely unpleasant. It makes perfect sense that we would disapprove of it and want it gone. But disapproving of a feeling is simply not helpful. Disapproval leads most people to feel more stressed and constricted, not less.

Let’s say you are on the path of anxiety, and you come to a fork in the road. I will call this the fork of awareness. At this fork, you see that there is an alternate path, the path of anxiety relief tools.

Every change is preceded by awareness. So, every time you arrive at the fork of awareness and you realize you’ve been on the path of anxiety, you have the opportunity to choose an anxiety relief tool. You can choose a tool that will help you calm your nervous system. You can choose a tool that will guide you to question, quiet, or upgrade worried thoughts. Or you can shift your focus to something present, pleasant, or peaceful. Eventually, the path of anxiety relief becomes your most well-worn path, leading you to experience more moments of calm and presence.

Let’s shift now to the path of anxiety relief tools. I like to teach a wide variety of tools to increase the chances that students and clients will find at least a few that resonate.

First, one of my favorites, Compassionate Connection.

Become aware of the anxious sensations like a curious observer. Try letting go of the idea that the sensations should be gone. Notice what happens when you become aware of anxious sensations without having any judgment or stories about them.

The part of you that is observing anxiety is not the anxiety. This can give you a bit of separation from the sensations, like you are the open sky, and the sensations are clouds. They can simply exist, and in time, pass right on by.

Practice offering the sensations compassion, like you might offer an anxious child. You can place your hand over the body part where you feel anxious sensations, and imagine sending them warmth and comfort with your own touch.

Tell yourself, or remind yourself, that this will pass, that all sensations, thoughts, feelings, and situations eventually pass.

As you breathe, imagine that your breath is like a relaxing tropical breeze, soothing any sensations or tension it passes by.

You can have a compassionate dialogue with anxiety, either in writing, in your imagination, or even aloud if you have privacy. Allow the anxiety to express itself and then respond back in a compassionate manner. If you have difficulty fostering compassion, you can think about how someone else compassionate and wise might respond.

The main themes here are compassion, warmth, and kindness, however that might look or feel to you in any given moment.

It’s like the anxious sensations are your child, and your compassionate responses and respectful actions are the parents.

Additional Anxiety Relief Tools:

Mindfulness: Practice bringing yourself back to actual, factual reality. You can do this anytime by focusing on your senses: notice any shapes or colors you see, sounds you hear, what you’re touching or sensing, or your body breathing.

MeditationThis could be a mindfulness meditation, repeating a mantra (a soothing or healing word, phrase, or sound), a calming visualization, loving-kindness meditation, or yoga nidra, to name a few.

Breathing Practices:  Bringing your focused attention to your breathing, as well as deepening your breath can have calming effects on the nervous system. Deep breathing allows more air flow into our bodies and can help reduce anxiety.

Channel Changing: When it feels appropriate, you can shift your focus off of anxiety and onto something that is uplifting, soothing, inspiring, or engaging.

The Work: A powerful thought-questioning process.

Internal Family Systems (IFS): A therapeutic model that guides people to identify and compassionately connect with various internal “parts”.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): Tapping specific points on your body to reduce anxiety.

Self-Havening: Using your own touch to signal the brain to boost serotonin and calm your system.

Voo Chanting: A powerful chant that helps stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system for relaxation.

Trauma Release Exercises (TRE): A simple series of shaking exercises that helps the body release stress.

May the path of anxiety relief tools be your most well-traveled path and may you have many moments of peace and presence.

View on Psychology Today

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3 Essential Steps to My Recovery

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

It’s pretty safe (and sad) to say that when I reflect back on how I spent the first half of my life, the majority of moments were lost to food and body obsession. What is even sadder is that I am so not alone. Millions of people lose millions of moments to the pursuit of perfecting their appearance.

Fortunately, as I healed, I felt inspired, as many do, to pass along what I had learned, and it has been an honor to spend the last three decades helping others overcome their food and body battles.

While many factors led me down the path of disorder, there were some significant steps that led me back home. Whether you are on your own path of healing, fully recovered, or guiding someone else along their way, may these steps be, or become, your new normal.

1. Out with Outcomes, In with Intuition

One of my most significant steps toward healing was when I began to take my focus off my appearance and into my intuition. After decades of calorie counting, point calculating, excessive exercise, and massive rebellion, my new vow was to turn inward for clarity instead of outward for results.

So instead of focusing on the lists of culturally deemed “good” and “bad” foods, I began to ask myself what I truly felt like eating. Then, I would stay tuned for the amount that felt loving to my body. It was literally the biggest do-over of my life.

Prior to my do-over, I would wake up most mornings, having already decided what I “should” eat for the day, or go on a bender of rebellion from my previously planned menu.

My new vows morphed into something like this:

When preparing to feed myself, I will tune into my body and ask it what it truly wants. I will feed myself like I would feed someone I love, someone who does not diet or binge. There are no longer any good or bad foods. There are simply foods, and my body will tell me what it wants, needs, likes, and loves.

And somehow, after years of restricting and rebelling, this new voice began to emerge from the brambles of my previously disordered thoughts.

Sometimes, when I tuned inside, I got crystal clear clarity on what and how much to eat. Other times, I was not so sure. I would then try to imagine that I was choosing foods for someone I love. When my mind would bark its terrified cries about how out of control it all felt, I would remind my mind that we were trying things a new way. Our previous system had gotten us nowhere but obsessing, starving, and binging. There was a new sheriff in town. My weight was no longer any of my business. What became my business was how to respectfully and lovingly feed, treat, and speak to my body in any given moment.

So, instead of entering the kitchen or opening up a restaurant menu, already knowing what I “should” have, or “better have cause I never get to have,” I would ask my body what it truly wanted and then stay tuned for the amount that felt truly loving. And for the first time in my adult life, I began to eat what my body and my wise intuition guided me to eat. And a loving amount became satisfying.

Next, I had to wash my brain from the brainwashing it had received from the fitness industry. So instead of telling myself I “should work-out,” or go for a run, or walk a certain distance, I began to ask myself if I felt like moving, and if so, how? Then, I’d stay tuned for how the movement felt in my body, not what I thought it would do to my body.

If I was out for a walk or a bike ride and I got an inkling to stop or turn towards home, I would, regardless of how long I’d been going. If I had a few free hours and thought I “should” get some exercise but really, I felt like resting, I rested. I began to go in for my answers, in the moment, rather than out toward some falsely promised results. Results no longer had a seat at my table.

2. Releasing the Notion of Perfection

I had taken my internal vows to let go of dieting, rioting, and compulsive exercise. But there were still times when I just wasn’t sure what to eat, how much to eat, how much to move, or when to rest. I’d ask myself my usual list of questions in an attempt to tune into my physical and emotional needs. I’d ask myself how I would feed or treat someone I love. And still, there were many times when I felt unsure of how to feed, treat, and care for myself. This brings us to essential step number two… releasing the notion of perfection.

May I just say, Phew!

While some internal dialogue is necessary for clarity, I realized (surprise, surprise!) that I was trying to intuitively eat, intuitively move, and intuitively live, perfectly. And since perfection was part of what got me into my eating disorder in the first place, it certainly was not going to help me climb out! Deciding and reminding myself that I didn’t have to eat, feel, or be perfect, was a huge relief. I just needed to continue inquiring with my body to see what it needed, wanted, liked, and loved. And just like any relationship, it didn’t have to be (nor would it ever be) perfect. Ironically, loosening the reigns of perfection would often help me get clarity, and even when it didn’t, with perfection off the table, I was off the hook!

With the volume of perfectionistic thinking turned down, I was often left with some spaces in my day, or my mind. I had been quite used to filling my spaces with food and body obsession, so what to do with space? Sometimes it meant I had some deeper feelings to feel— the ones that fed into my eating disorder in the first place. Sometimes it meant I had to tolerate being full until my food digested. Sometimes I needed a healthy distraction. Sometimes I had to get creative and try to find new ways to fill up. Sometimes I needed to work with my unkind mind when it would try to have its perfectionistic way with me. But with a compassionate internal dialogue replacing an unkind monologue, I learned how to fill, or be with the spaces that mind quieting created.

My responses to perfectionistic pop-up thoughts sounded something like this:

I do not have be perfect. I do not have to eat what the diet industry tells us to eat. I do not have to exercise if I don’t feel like it. I do not have to look or be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have relationship glitches. We are not supposed to be happy all the time. I do not have to be perfect. I repeat, I do not have to be perfect!

And for the first time in my personal history of life on planet earth, my new mantra became, and remains: I do not have to be perfect.

Mic drop!

3. Change Your Mind, Not Your Body

Until I discovered concepts like mindfulness, spirituality, and ummm, reality, nobody could’ve convinced me that my thoughts were not real. Until they did. And when I began to learn that my thoughts were simply recycled ideas that I’d learned from other people’s recycled ideas, I was floored. My thoughts had always seemed and felt so real. But I learned that thoughts were not the same as truth. After all, I could not see, touch, hold, or show someone else my thoughts, so how could they be actual, factual reality? And since it was my thoughts that led me to restrict, binge, and hate my body, this new development was very good news! It also led me to my third (and continual) essential step in my recovery process: Changing my mind, not my body.

I have often said that an eating disorder could equally be considered a thinking disorder. Once I became a therapist, I knew this to be even more true. I have countless examples of clients over the years, coming into my office one week, convinced that their bodies were unacceptable, unlovable, and their biggest problem, only to come back the following week, feeling great about how things were going in their lives. The difference being, in the first session, they were believing their unkind mind and in the next, they were not. In both sessions, they had the same exact body. What changed were their thoughts. Different thoughts. Different reality.

Believe me, I understand that changing our mind movies is not easy. When a person gets told enough times that something will bring them love, approval, and happily ever-after-ness, they believe it and naturally seek it. It’s human nature to seek approval and avoid criticism. Far too many of us have been taught that changing our appearance will change our lives for the better. And unfortunately, the vast majority of those messages tend not to include that the pursuit of perfecting our appearance robs us of the very happiness we are seeking.

I always thought that my biggest problem was my body, but I came to understand that my biggest problem was my thoughts. I needed to learn how to question, challenge, and upgrade my unkind mind. I needed to learn how to give myself the love and approval I had been seeking so I would always have it. We don’t go looking for what we already have and since love and approval are human needs, once we begin to give them to ourselves, we have them. Then anything else is simply an added bonus.

It’s pretty common practice to upgrade our computers and devices on a regular basis but how often do we upgrade our outdated thoughts? Thoughts that have been passed down for generations: “Good” and “bad” food rules, “good” and “bad” ways to look, feel, move, speak, and live. It’s no wonder disordered eating, substance abuse, excessive screen use, anxiety, and depression are at all-time highs. Our culture convinces far too many of us that changing our bodies will change our sense of ourselves. In truth, the only way to change our sense of ourselves is to change our sense of ourselves.

It takes awareness, dedication, and courage to change our minds, to eat what we want instead of what the diet industry tells us to eat, to move and rest in the ways our bodies want, instead of what the fitness industry says, to welcome our emotions, and to speak our truth. Healing from food and body issues is not an easy endeavor, but then neither is body hatred, restricting, binging, excessive exercise, depression, anxiety, or constant comparing. It takes a roll-up-your-sleeves
commitment to overcome body hatred and disordered eating in a culture that is swimming in unkind, unrealistic, untrue rules. But thankfully, it is worth the work.

May you not lose an ounce more of your precious time on this planet to body hatred. May you feed and treat your body with deep respect. May you move your body in ways that you love, and then rest, a lot. May you challenge any unkind thoughts that pop up on your internal screen. May you speak your truth. May you spend your time with people who want to hear your truth and respectfully tell you theirs. May you seek to know your hearts desires. May you live a balanced life overflowing with self-love.

View on The Eating Disorders Resource Catalogue

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Tendency for Codependency?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Marsea Marcus, LMFT

Do you often focus on the needs of others but ignore your own?

Do you find yourself preoccupied by how your loved ones are doing?

Do you have difficulty expressing your feelings and needs in your relationships?

Do you feel compelled to jump in and try to fix others when they’re struggling?

Do you regularly sacrifice your own self-care for the sake of others?

Do you offer support to others without even checking in with your own needs?

All of the above questions are indicators of codependency. Codependency is when somebody consistently focuses on the feelings and needs of others, at the expense of their own. This behavioral pattern hurts not only the codependent, but it also hinders the other person’s growth.

Codependency is sometimes referred to as a relationship addiction. But unlike addictions to substances like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, where recovery involves complete abstinence, when someone struggles with codependency, the path to wellness is not as clear-cut. You can’t simply stop “the symptoms” of loving, supporting and helping the people you care about. And even if you could, that does not necessarily constitute health either.

It’s healthy and appropriate to help others at times, to feel concerned about our loved ones, or to offer support to the people we care about. It’s only when these things are taken to extremes that they can be harmful rather than helpful.

A codependent person has an extreme need to take care of others and to focus on other people, while ignoring their own needs, problems and desires. In a codependent relationship, one person loses their own identity and orbits around another person. Often, that other person is an addict of some kind, but not always.

The poblem for the recipient of codependent behavior is that they become used to having their problems attended to by someone else. They can stay stuck in a lifestyle that may be ruining their lives or even killing them and, partly as a result of the codependents in their lives, they don’t have the motivation to do anything about their problems; they can leave that to others.

It is important to note that, on the positive side, most codependents are very caring people with very big hearts. Codependency can even look and seem saintly. After all, many codependent people would do almost anything for their friends, children or spouses, including putting their own life on hold. They are loyal! But they tend to be overly loyal, not knowing when (or how) to stop. They over-care, feel overly responsible for others, and are overly focused on the needs of others.

In healthy relationships, each person factors their own needs into their decision-making process, it’s not all about the other person. (Especially when that other person is an addict and not making good decisions for themselves.) In healthy relationships there is a balance between giving and receiving, talking and listening.

Often, a person caught in the grips of codependency feels that their own needs are unimportant. Even though they may look like the “healthier” person of the two, they have their own issues that cause them to think other people are more important than they are, that their own feelings don’t matter, and that they are responsible for saving people. Their desperate need for approval trumps all other needs. When somebody consistently diminishes their own feelings and needs and looks to others for approval and identity, this results in an unhealthy dynamic (for both people). Codependency really isn’t good for anyone, despite the accolades that a codependent person might receive for being so “good” or “helpful.”

Healing from codependency involves subtle and deep self-inquiry. For example, it might feel healthy and appropriate to give your adult child some money in one instance, but at another time, your gut is telling you it’s not a good idea, that they have not been making wise choices with money lately, and that giving them money may only help to perpetuate their bad choices. Healing requires thinking these things through instead of simply reacting to impulses to help.

There are certainly times when doing something for someone else feels like the right thing to do and there are times when that very same offer could be codependent. To know which is which, a person has to be able to tap into their internal wisdom. If someone is unable to do this, it’s important they seek help (i.e. therapy or a trusted friend) to look at the underlying issues that caused them to separate from their internal wisdom in the first place.

For example, if our early caregivers were unhealthy or had a lot of unmet needs themselves, we may have ended up taking on the role of caregiver, rather than the adult being the caregiver, as nature intended it. When this happens, we often lose our connection to our own developmental needs and develop an overactive attunement to our caregiver, and then others. This can cause an internal disconnection from our innate wisdom. Also, some children are naturally wired to be highly empathetic. They tend to over-care about approval, leading them to focus on making other people happy, and under-care about their own feelings and needs. These kids need their caretakers to be in charge and not let them caretake their caretakers.

You may remember a book that was popular back in the 70’s called I’m OK – You’re OK. Think of the codependent version as: I’m OK – If You’re OK. But, in all seriousness, when someone struggles with codependency, it can be very painful business. The constant efforts to fix someone are stressful and, combined with a lack of self-care, can lead to many emotional and physical problems, as well as impede the other person’s growth.

Signs of Codependency

It can be difficult to distinguish healthy caring behaviors from codependent behaviors. In some situations, like when raising a child or helping an elderly person, putting someone else’s needs above one’s own might be necessary and appropriate. Children and some elderly people actually are dependent in a way that another adult should not be.

Here are some signs to look out for:

Consitently putting others’ needs first, at the expense of your own.

Neglecting to check in with your own feelings and needs. 

Doing things out of obligation rather than true desire. 

Not being able to separate out your own needs from what you think are the needs of others. 

Regularly compromising, minimizing or ignoring your own needs. 

Frequent ruminating or obsessing about other people’s feelings, life situations and needs. 

Having difficulty saying no, setting limits, or making requests on your own behalf. 

Feeling like you don’t have a choice if someone asks you to do something for them.

Neglecting your own self-care because you’re too busy taking care of others. 

Feeling guilty if you say no to someone. 

Having difficulty tolerating someone else’s response if your desires or preferences differ from theirs. 

Having a hard time tolerating glitches or rough spots in your relationships and always needing things to be okay in order for you to feel okay. 

Holding in or denying your true feelings, thoughts and needs because you’re too afraid to voice them.

Feeling resentful because you do too much for others and don’t realize you have choices. 

Jumping at other peoples’ needs without even factoring in your own. 

Thinking it’s your job to help someone when they are struggling.

A Codependent Friendship:

Let’s meet Callie and her friend Lisa. Lisa asks Callie if she can drive her to the airport. Immediately in Callie’s body, she gets a clear sense of “no.” She has been working overtime, while sick with a cold. Her laundry is piled up. The day of Lisa’s flight will be the first day Callie will have time to rest and catch up on her life. This just isn’t going to work for her. But barely tuning into her inner voice about this, Callie immediately thinks about how much Lisa has been struggling lately. She lost her car in a bad accident (yes, she was drunk, but still, she’s really inconvenienced now without a car). And Lisa has been trying really hard to get sober, but everything has seemed to go against her. This ride is one thing Callie can do to make life a little easier for her friend. Callie thinks, “If I don’t do this, Lisa might end up drinking. I can still find time to rest and do my laundry. How can I not help my friend out? I’m lucky to have a car and the time to help her. I feel like I have to give her this ride.”

We all have an inner voice that tells us when something is a no, a yes or a maybe. Someone who struggles with codependency is often not in touch with that knowing, or they are but they ignore it.

So, Callie gets a negative feeling inside that tells her the airport ride does not work for her. The codependent response she chose was to say “yes” anyway. One result will probably be that Callie feels even more exhausted, stressed and, on top of that, resentful.

The healthy response might be for Callie to kindly tell Lisa that she is unable to give her a ride and trust that honoring her gut will be best for both of them, even if it’s difficult. Callie might even realize that she wouldn’t want someone doing a favor for her when it really didn’t work for them, and that Lisa deserves authenticity from her friend.

Again, this does not mean that healthy friends never sacrifice, flex, or go out of their way for each other. It means they regularly tune-in to their inner guidance, their internal GPS, if you will. And that’s where they get their answers. They feel that they have a choice about whether to say “yes” or “no” to the requests of others. They can weigh out the pros and cons honestly and make decisions that respect both the other person and themselves. They can sacrifice their own needs at times, but they can also say “no”, negotiate other options and voice their own feelings, thoughts and needs.

Tips for Healing Codependency:

Take time to think about what you are feeling and needing and how you can best take care of yourself each day.

Remind yourself that you have choices. Practice saying “No”, even if it’s really hard.

Remember that you are not responsible for another adult’s feelings or life.

Practice pausing before you say “yes” to any request someone makes of you. Tell the requestor you have to think about what they’re asking and get back to them.

Ask yourself what you might do in the situation if you did not feel obligated or afraid.

Tune into your own needs before you jump in to offer support.

Begin expressing your preferences on smaller things, like restaurant or movie choices. This will help you prepare for the bigger things like relationship needs and limit setting.

Take time each day to inquire within. Make it a regular practice to drop down from your mind (where codependent decisions and beliefs are born), into your heart (where you will discover your truth). Spiritual activities like meditation, prayer or quiet contemplation, journaling or connecting with nature can help you do this.

Start asking yourself what you truly love to do. Aside from the family and friends you care about, what other interests do you have? What did you used to be passionate about but gave up?Practice allowing others to experience their hardships and figure out their own solutions, rather than jumping in to save them.

Learn to tolerate someone else having feelings (other than happy)!

If you think a friend is codependent with you, encourage them to take care of themselves, hear them when they express doubt about doing something, respect their answer when they say, “No”, insist they make some choices (like which movie or restaurant to go to) and make space for them to talk about themselves.

Tell yourself (until you believe it) that your feelings, needs and preferences matter too. 

Make it a habit to treat yourself as kindly and importantly as you treat everyone else!

If this list seems challenging to impossible for you, consider getting professional help from a therapist who specializes in codependency. Also, check out some books, blogs or podcasts on the topic.

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